Yankee Offseason: Is A $300 Million Payroll Possible?

The number 300 has a special meaning in baseball. 300 wins is the traditional Hall of Fame measure for a starting pitcher. Striking out 300 batters in a season hasn’t been done since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002. The other men on that list include Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Kofax.

A .300 batting average is the goal of nearly every hitter. $300 million is the next payroll threshold for major league teams to cross, and the Yankees could make a run at payroll history once again.

While there has been talk since early last year about the Yankees cutting payroll to under $189 million for the 2014 season to escape the luxury tax, the plan is not set in stone. In fact, the benefits to staying under the luxury tax threshold may be less than previously thought. The Bronx Bombers are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2013, will lose Mariano Rivera at the end of the season, and have to deal with Alex Rodriguez and a spectacle that could continue through the end of the third baseman’s tenure in New York.

The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, in 2008, a spending spree ensued, bringing A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira to New York.

With Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and three-fifths of the starting rotation eligible for free agency this winter, a quick rebuild for Derek Jeter’s potential farewell tour in 2014 may be in the cards.

According to Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees have just $89 million committed in 2014, not including arbitration-eligible players. This may sound reasonable when thinking about $100 million in salary room to fill out the roster until you realize that nearly $90 million only pays for seven players: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, and Vernon Wells.

Players like Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, and David Robertson will likely be around in 2014 as well, but since even doubling Gardner’s $2.85 million salary in 2013 is a far cry from the large contracts, this piece will evaluate the stars to see how a rebuilding may get close to a $300 million target.


The Yankees took heat right away in the winter of 2012 as Russell Martin left for the fair pastures of Pittsburgh and the Yankees decided to go with a catching platoon of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. The two big free agent catchers this year: Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Boston Red Sox.

McCann has rebounded in a big way from a disappointing 2012 (.230/.300/.399) with a .270/.342/.498 line and 18 home runs in just 81 games after hitting 20 in 121 games last year. McCann is in the final year of a seven-year, $41.3 million deal and would probably warrant a qualifying offer, this year set at $14 million.

According to FanGraphs, the Braves’ catcher has been worth about $13.1 million so far this season, putting a multiyear deal of at least $14 million a year well within the realm of possibility. Combined with the fact that catchers are always in demand and the Phillies, among others, will be looking, it makes McCann a good buy-high opportunity for New York’s purposes.

Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could represent a bargain for the Yankees should the Sox decide to move on from his services. Salty never became the superstar he looked like after a 2007 Double A season when he hit .309/.404/.617, but four years in Boston as a .240/.306/.451 hitter is a pretty good return when comparing him to other starters at the position.

His patience has taken great strides this season, his OBP is sitting at .341 in August 28, after back-to-back .288 marks in 2011 and 2012. Interestingly, FanGraphs values Salty at $13.1 million this season, the same as Brian McCann.

The Red Sox do have some young catchers on the farm, and Saltalamacchia is earning just $4.5 million, so he may avoid being offered a qualifying offer, and likely will be cheaper than McCann regardless of where he signs.

Contract guess: $15 million per year with McCann

Second Base

This one is a no-brainer: the Yankees must re-sign Robinson Cano. In a lost season for the Yankees, Cano has hit .305/.385/.506, right in line with his career (.308/.355/.503) and has been the rock in the offense diminished lineup.

He’s played in at least 159 games every year since 2007 and has appeared in five All-Star Games. Cano doesn’t have much speed, but he’s hit at least 24 home runs in each of the last five seasons.

Cano is the number one free agent this year according to MLBTraderumors and now being represented by Jay-Z’s agency, will look to exceed the $110 million contract extension signed by Dustin Pedroia.

Cano is definitely worth the $14 million qualifying offer and will likely be looking at a minumum of $25 million per year wherever he signs. While the Dodgers are supposedly downplaying their interest, teams on both coasts could get in on the bidding.

Contract guess: $27 million per year


Curtis Granderson, finishing a six-year, $42.5 million contract originally signed with the Detroit Tigers, has battled injuries in 2013, but played in 136, 156, and 160 games with the Yankees from 2010-2012. The left handed slugger hit 43 home runs last year and 41 the year before.

Previously a center fielder, Granderson has split his time almost evenly this season among all three outfield spots, while also serving as designated hitter in a quarter of his games. Granderson’s stolen base numbers have fluctuated between the low double digits and mid-twenties every season since 2007 but he has swiped seven bags already, despite a short season.

However, while Granderson may be a decent bet to receive a qualifying offer, with so many outfielders under control, the Yankees may pass to sign Jacoby Ellsbury. The Red Sox center fielder hasn’t hit for the type of power he did in 2011, when he launched 32 home runs and 46 doubles, but with seven long balls and 47 steals, he’s on his way to another productive season anyway.

Missing large parts of the 2010 and 2012 seasons make it difficult to remember how good Ellsbury has been, averaging a .297/.350/.438 line in his career as a leadoff hitter for one of the best offenses of the past decade.

Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated thinks that Ellsbury is “a tremendously valuable player, and 5 years, $75-million is probably the buy-in for a guy like that … With Jackie Bradley Jr. not having a huge season at Pawtucket … I think the Red Sox will be big players here.”

This would be similar to the contract received by B.J. Upton from the Atlanta Braves last winter. Upton of course has been a flop in Atlanta, hitting well under .200 with just 8 home runs after hitting more than 20 each of the past two years and 18 the season before that.

Contract guess for Ellsbury: $18 million per year

Starting pitchers

The Yankees have three starting pitchers hitting the market this year: Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and Phil Hughes. Maybe Kuroda and Pettitte will return for one more season, but both pitchers are likely nearing the end of the line.

But bringing back two aging stars for short money isn’t the Steinbrenner way.

Target one: Matt Garza. Garza had a good run with the Tampa Bay Rays and a nice start with the Chicago Cubs before catching the injury bug. From 2008 to 2011 Garza stayed around the 200 inning mark, had an ERA between 3.32 and 3.95 and approached a strikeout per inning.

During those seasons he never started fewer than 30 games. Garza followed up in 2012 by starting just 18 games and after spending some time on the DL in 2013, has started 18 games between his time with the Cubs and Texas Rangers.

Proving that he can still cut it in the AL, Garza should be in for a nice payday. John Lackey’s five-year, $82.5 million deal could be the starting point as Garza will be signing his deal at a slightly younger age.

Target two: Ervin Santana. Traded by the Angels to Kansas City in the offseason as part of a move to clear salary to sign Zack Greinke, who ended up with the Dodgers, Santana is the second big pitcher this offseason.

Likely too expensive for Kansas City to retain, Santana has four 200-inning seasons under his belt and will come close to that mark this year. His ERA has fluctuated in the past, but his career mark is 4.21 and his career WHIP is a respectable 1.29. His price will likely look similar to Garza’s.

Target three: Ricky Nolasco. The mercurial right hander has been all over the place in his career performance wise. He’s started at least 30 games four times, and is just two away this season, had an ERA under 4.00 only once before 2013, and a 3.51 K/BB rate.

After seeing his strikeouts fall for three seasons after 2009, Nolasco has rebounded in this aspect of his game in 2013. Being on the Dodgers could help or hurt his salary negotiations.

On the one hand, the Dodgers have shown they are willing to spend, which could start a bidding war, but he’s behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke in the rotation and the Dodgers want to sign their young lefty before he hits the market, which could put pressure on total spending for pitching in LA.

Unlikely to sign with the Yankees: A.J. Burnett. However, the team did bring back Javier Vazquez for a second tour of duty after a disappointing first time around, so anything is possible.

Contract guess for Garza: $18 million per year

Contract guess for Santana: $17 million per year

Contract guess for Nolasco: $15 million per year

A wildcard for the Yankees would be Tim Lincecum. He could come over the American League as a starter, although his struggles the past two seasons could make him more tempting as a reliever, perhaps even as relief ace who could pick up the mantle from Mariano Rivera.

What do you pay a two-time Cy Young winner converting to the bullpen at 29? He’s coming off a 2-year $40.5 million deal so maybe a deal along the lines of Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal, regardless of whether he starts of relieves.

Contract guess for Lincecum: $13 million per year

Third Base

Regardless of whether he misses the entire season or just part of the season, Alex Rodriguez is unlikely to play 162 games for the Yankees next year.

Aramis Ramirez of the Milwaukee Brewers is under contract for one more year at $16 million, with a mutual option for 2015. Given the Brewers fall from competitiveness, this could be a classic Yankee trade of absorbing a contract in a trade for a prospect of limited value.

As a right handed hitter he won’t benefit from Yankee stadium as much as a lefty, but when he’s on the field he still hits for power and average while getting on base at a .360 clip the last three seasons.

Contract for 2014: $16 million

Where We Stand

In this experiment the Yankees begin 2014 with seven players under contract for $89 million. We’ve retained Robinson Cano and added a catcher, at least one outfielder, a third baseman, three starters, and a relief ace or potential upgrade on current fifth starter Ivan Nova.

The additions are worth $139 million next year, putting the Yankees at $228 for fifteen players. That leaves ten roster spots left to fill. Will that cost $72 million dollars? Probably not, but that doesn’t take away from what could be another offseason sweep of the free agent market.

Should the club choose to retain Granderson or add Shin-Soo Choo and trade Ichiro or Gardner, that could add a few million to the total as well.

Whether the Yankees will try to save money or remind the Dodgers who the big spender in baseball really is remains up for debate.

But if you believe the team retains Cano, the rest of the signings aren’t unreasonable for a club with the sort of money the Yankees have to spend in any given offseason. After all, we saw this type of offseason rebuild from the Yankees in 2008.

Cross posted at The Sports Post

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